review

Rocket Rooster Analog Film Looks for Lightroom Review

We just recently picked up the new Analog Film pack from Rocket Rooster…

…and I was really anxious to try it out. I’ve been using the VSCO film packs (mostly #4) for a long time now and I was very interested in seeing how Rocket’s film pack would stand up.

The first thing you’ll notice is that there is a huge difference in price between the RR and VSCO packs. At the time of writing this review VSCO has 7 packs available for purchase, each one costing $120. By contrast RR has only one pack costing $35. If that seems like a bargain, then consider that you can by RR’s pack even cheaper for $26, as long as you send out a tweet about it before check out.

I love VSCO, and I use their presets often, mainly as a starting point, to give my photos the looks I want, but I’ve always thought they were woefully over priced. There is no way a pack of presets are worth $120. RR’s solution at $35 is much more in line with my sensibilities. At such a low price, that leaves a very important question hanging in the air – can Rocket Rooster deliver the goods?

I spent a few hours in lightroom yesterday, clicking between presets from both companies. I tried to find a few common film emulations between the two, but found that it was actually hard to do. First off, VSCO’s library is so huge that you’ll often find that each film type has many different variations. And with names like, “C – Polaroid 690 Warm ++”, it can be kind of hard to tell exactly what condition of film you are actually emulating.

I did finally find two presets that were named exactly the same between the two packs. What we’ve settled for is Color Fuji Film Provia 400x. Let’s look at them side by side.

Fuji 400x - Rocket Rooster

Fuji 400x - VSCO

The good news is, you can tell they are trying to emulate the same brand of film, but which one looks better? Rockets? VSCO? I certainly have a feeling which way I am leaning. Argh, can’t it be true? Can my love affair with VSCO be over? Maybe so, because I certainly like the treatment on Rocket’s version over VCSO’s.

RR’s shadows are smoother, the low end shadow detail is preserved better, the color and contrast looks better, the skin’s coloration is more even throughout the photo. RR’s version pretty much wins in every category here.

There is a caveat, however — we’re talking film emulation here. Small variations in color, contrast, shadows and highlights can all be tweaked after the fact to achieve the exact effect you’re looking for. Like I said before, presets are starting points, not finish lines.

Having said that, I felt like all of RR’s film presets gave me a better starting point for editing across the board. VSCO’s system is way too bloated, both in price and content. More doesn’t mean better, it just means more. Don’t get me wrong, I won’t be getting rid of my VSCO collection any time soon, but I’ll be using Rocket Rooster’s presets first.

You can buy Rocket Rooster’s Analog Film Pack here.

More RR Samples

Benjamin Lehman is a Commercial Advertising and Portrait Photographer in the Canton, Northeast Ohio Region.

Paul C Buff Einstein 640 – Field Tested and Reviewed

We took PCB's Einstein out into the field and put it through it's paces.

IMG_5526

Our Einstein mounted on a C-Stand, spilling light into a 7′ umbrella.

Einstein’s backfacing LCD Screen with more information than you can throw a stick at.

Let’s face it – flash photography is daunting. It’s so daunting that some people try it once, only to never return. Even if you have a good handle on the principles of flash photography there are still a myriad of issues that can crop up and turn a simple photo into a complicated affair.

Dials, lighting ratios, radio & wireless triggering, power range, compatibility with lighting modifiers are some of the issues that confront a photographer every time he takes his lights into the field.

So, how does the Einstein deal with all of these problems? Let’s start by saying that there is no magic button on the back of the Einstein that will tap into your imagination and render the exact lighting that you desire. But it does have a few great options that allow you to interact with the light so you can easily achieve the light you’re looking for.

I’m going to throw a dart at the board here and just start with a random topic: White balance.

I am not a huge curmudgeon when it comes to a flash’s color balance. I tweak the color in nearly every photo I take in post to suit my taste and therefor it’s never been a big issue for me if one frame has a slightly different temperature than the next.  There are some people, however, who very much rely on their lighting system to produce the same quality and temperature of light consistently between each frame. You know the types, they color balance before each shoot, read every element of their set with a light meter and talk with precise and measured words, often in a German accent. That’s all fine, and if that’s you, good news, the Einstein totally caters to your needs.

On the back of the Einstein lives a small LCD screen, and this screen holds a deluge of information. So much more than the usual per-stop digital-number readout. This screen, which is actually a visual portal to all of the things that make the Einstein so great, allows you access some amazing sub-features. One such feature is the ability to switch between action and color mode. Action mode allows the light to have a dramatic power drop after it’s main light burst. This power drop allows you to capture action at speeds of 1/13,500! There’s a good chance that even your camera can’t capture action at those speeds.

I tried action mode out this week in the studio and it absolutely amazed me. This feature will freeze the action in a perfect stand-still. No motion bleed what-so-ever, only clear, clean, crisp edges no matter what action is happening in front of your lens.

But, if you’re more concerned with color temperature, then switch over to Color mode and all your color balance woes disappear. Normally, as your average studio light repeatedly flashes it’ll slowly change color temperature over the course of a session. Same with changing it’s power. Dial in more or less power and you’re also changing the color range every so slightly. The Einstein has some really smart internal logic that combats this problem with astonishing results. From their website, “In Constant Color mode, the emitted color temperature is held constant at 5600ºK (+/- 50ºK at any power setting or input voltage).”  That’s pretty impressive.

Some of the less glamorous but essential features every photographer relies on are also represented in the Einstein. Things like a modeling light and radio channel selection. While we’re on the subject of radio/wireless functionality, PCB offers a very cool wireless system known as the CyberSync system. The Cyber Commander is the main piece of hardware that attaches to your camera and allows you to control your lights remotely. The back of the Cyber Commander showcases an LCD screen that looks very reminiscent to the one on the back of the Einstein.

One thing missing from the Einstein unit that other flash units, like Elinchrom’s, have built in, is a wireless receiver. Instead, you’ll have to purchase a separate, “transceiver”, for the fairly reasonable price of $29.95. When you consider the cost of the more expensive studio light systems, this small extra price barely factors into the equation.

Now, let’s talk about some of the more the practical applications of this light and how it’s going to make life easier in the long run. I will attempt to describe these features in the context of some real world applications. To help me out in this endeavor I spent some time with the light in the studio and on location so I could relay some first hand accounts.

Power Range.

Action Sports Portraiture with the Einstein

The ability to dial in your strobe is the most essential feature of all flash systems. Some systems use half, third, or quarter stop increments. Some systems use analog sliders or dials to choose between full or lowest power.

The Einstein allows you to dial in your power at 1/10 of a stop increments. This is really handy when you need to fine tune every aspect of your shot. And, with Einstein’s 9 f/stop power range, there’s plenty of room to either over power the sun, or add a touch of fill to a candle lit seen. At it’s lowest power range I was able to use my camera at f/2.8 and get a creamy quality of light while retaining a dreamy level of focus. Add in some more layers of diffusion and you’ll be able to pull your camera into the f/1.4 range.

The first shoot I used this light on was a gritty, high-contrast sports portrait. The light need to be punchy, with a lot of zap. I set the Einstein to exactly -6.0f power. How did I arrive at that number? Well, I played around a little. I don’t use light meters. Personally, I think light meteres are a piece of dinosaur-age equipment left over from the dinosaur age of photography. Your camera, it’s LCD screen and your eyes are the Light Meters of today. So, when I am lighting with the Einstein, I am using it’s fine incremental selector to dial in the light I want.

Doing this is as simple as pushing either the up or down buttons until you’re happy with the result. I also had the Einstein set to action mode to freeze-frame his hair as he swung his head around before each push of the shutter.

Getting Out of the Studio

The photo we just used as an example was a studio photo which we then composited into a matching background. Now we want to explore what happens when you take the Einstein into the world. For that, we headed straight into the wilderness – which just happens to be a small forest near the studio. Hey, it’s what we got, so it’ll just have to work.

We took one Einstein, one 2×3 Softbox and one mobile power source with us. In our case, the power is coming from a PCB Vagabond Mini. I’ve had this Vagabond for years and have used it with my older AlienBees on many occasions and it has always gotten the job done. Not surprisingly, the Vagabond powers the Einstein without issue.

In the Woods with the Einstein 640

Here in our wooded location, it’s already pretty dark, so we need to set the camera to take in some ambient light. The 9/f stop range of the Einstein lets me take the power way down, almost to the very bottom, to give me just enough light to make our subject appear out of the darkness. With the help of a grid on our softbox, you can see that the Einstein was able to paint just enough light on his face and hands to give him an almost ghostly, coming out of the shadows appearance. I am highlighting this because many studio flash systems, including some very expensive solutions, aren’t viable at low power — meaning sometimes their lowest setting isn’t low enough. Sure you can set your aperture to adjust for this, but what if you want to maintain a dark scene while retaining total control over depth of field? The Einstein’s power range lets that happen.

Final Thoughts

I haven’t come out and just said it outright, but hopefully you’ve been catching the hints — the Einstein 640 is just as good, if not better, than most of it’s more expensive counterparts. ProFoto and Elinchrom systems will always have their place in the studio, but so does the Einstein. It has the performance of the big name strobes and features that can only be found on the Einstein. I’m so confident and in love with this system that I am already preparing to have an all Einstein studio.

Benjamin Lehman is a Commercial Photographer in the Canton, Northeast Ohio Region.

Sigma 70-200mm F2.8 EX DG OS HSM – Detail, Image Quality and Sharpness Test. Sample Images Included.

The Sigma 70-200 is an amazing lens, but just how amazing?

Just recently I read a lens review where the person writing the review said, “Sharpness is not something I normally notice on a lens.” To this point all I can say is, wait, what?

How can any photographer, specifically one who is writing a review of a lens, not notice how sharp a lens is? Maybe I’m wrong, but when shopping for a new lens, isn’t the sharpness of a lens just as important as it’s focal length?

For this review, I am talking specifically about the sharpness. Even more specifically, the sharpness at it’s widest aperture setting of f/2.8. I am also testing it’s sharpness with OS (optical stabilization) both on and off.

First, let’s take a look at a real world application for a lens like the 70-200 — A wedding. Weddings are a great test bed because you need a lens that can give you a sharp, great looking image in conditions you often can’t plan for. A common rule when shooting with a telephoto lens is to have your shutter speed match, if not exceed the focal length of your lens. So, if shooting at 200mm, you’d ideally have a shutter speed around 1/250. A rule like this is easy to follow if you can plan for the situation you’re shooting in, but when working a fast paced job, like a wedding, you may not always be able to comply with a rule like this. That’s why a lens with optical stabilization (also known as IS, or VC) can be so important.

Sigma at 200mm with OS on (click for larger view)

Sigma at 200mm with OS on (click for larger view)

Here are two sample images illustrating the sharpness of the Sigma 70-200 with OS on.  This first sample is an uncropped photo, straight from the camera. Even at this size, not zoomed in, it’s apparent how clean the details are. It’s even more amazing when you consider this image was shot at 1/80th of a second, zoomed in at 200mm. That’s way below the threshold for steady, clean shooting. Shooting a lens at this speed, at this focal length would normally mean your photos would suffer from a bad case of the jitters.

Sigma at 200mm with OS on (click for larger view)

Sigma at 200mm with OS on (click for larger view)

Now let’s zoom in and look at some detail from this photo with stabilization turned on. You can easily see just how amazing this lens is. The details, like the lines around the eyes, and the eyelashes, are damn near perfectly sharp. And don’t forget, this is wide open at f/2.8. Historically a lens’ widest aperture setting is not where it performs at its best in terms of sharpness, but here we can see the Sigma performing astonishingly well.

200mm at 1/400 with OS off.

200mm at 1/400 with OS off.

So, we’ve shown that the Sigma’s sharpness with OS enabled is amazing, but does that mean it’ll function equally well when you have enough light to shoot without OS? Let’s find out!

In this first image, we can see that our subject (the bird) is acceptably sharp at f/2.8.  For reference, the focus point was placed over the bird’s eye, just as it was for our subject in the wedding photo above.

200mm at 1/400 with OS off.

200mm at 1/400 with OS off.

Here I’ve cropped the image in the way I would do it if I were sharing this photo on social media, or a photo-sharing site.

This may not be an extreme crop, but even at this modest size we can see the details are being maintained in stunning fashion.

200mm at 1/400 with OS off.

200mm at 1/400 with OS off.

This is an extreme crop. In fact, I am zooming in around 25% further than the photo’s max native resolution.

It’s here, at this extreme zoom, that we see just how awesome the Sigma’s sharpness really is. The fidelity of the Sigma 70-200mm lens means you can scale your photos a bit beyond 100% and still retain respectable sharpness. In practical terms, this means higher quality prints at larger sizes, and the ability to really dig into your photos to create a better composition in post.

One last thought on image quality concerns color fringing. I’ve read elsewhere that Canon lenses tend to fringe with a magenta tint, and Sigmas tend to fringe with a greenish tint. That green fringe is evident here. I can also say through experience that the amount of color fringing on the Sigma is less than it is on my Canon lenses. This only applies to the Canon lenses I own, and the amount of difference in fringing varies from lens to lens.

So, here’s where I, the reviewer, try to summarize my thoughts on the subject. Before I do that, however, let me just address one argument that many photographers have made since the beginning of time. That is, simply, that you should never waste money on a non-brand lens.

When I first used this lens 2 weeks ago, it only took a few hours before someone said, “That’s not a Canon lens, but hey, it’s cheaper, right?”

“Cheaper, and perhaps better.”, I replied. The guy who made the comment looked shocked. I’m sure he either felt I was a first year newb photographer, or that I was just crazy. But, when I turned the camera around and showed him some of the photos I was taking he simply nodded, shut his mouth and sat down in his chair. Why? Because the proof is in the pudding; you can’t dispute results.

I’ve owned a 70-200 Canon lens for over 6 years and I’ve loved it every time I’ve used it. The cold, hard truth however, is that this Sigma is better. Oh yea, it’s cheaper too.